Monday 23 May 2016


CD Review

Good Times Will Come Again

It's reassuring that Megson is among those who are writing the future history of folk. As many of the current musicians are lamenting the loss of the mining and shipping industries, and rightly so, then the husband and wife team of Stu and Debbie Hanna are tapping into the problems and concerns of now, which will be a reference point for successive generations of folk singers.

Debbie and Stu Hanna who are Megson
It's been a long time coming, but this is an album of original songs and there isn't a bad track on it. Like a cottage industry, the duo wrote, performed and produced the album themselves with grateful input from special guests John Parker and Patrick Duffin.
This is an album of social insight, witty and stinging comment, and acute observation which keeps a strand of guarded optimism for good measure.
Opening with Generation Rent, the upbeat song, which is reminiscent of when Squeeze burst onto the pop scene, sings about getting on the shaky rungs of the property ladder. Stu's singing takes precedence with Debbie providing the strong harmonies.
The song is a self-fulfilling prophecy and hints at the circle of life where the subjects want to move out of their parents home for a place of their own which they eventually do but then of course it no longer becomes their own as they have children and the cycle begins again. There are some super lyrics in there, which is not really surprising from the duo, such as: "We got married with a kiss and a cough, dressed up like a toff, I'm still paying it off. We spent our honeymoon, watching Boon, in her parents' room." It's also an indictment of how we have become a more "nomadic" society and the idea of extended families living in the same house has been consigned to the bin of social history.
The beautiful ballad, A Prayer for Hope is simple, short but very poignant and comes across as really heartfelt.
Stu and Debbie's voices have this wonderful quality of never quite fully blending together but like the Yin & Yang produce a real harmony while being distinctly separate. The track is a perfect example of how you can make a really telling song out of not much.
Burn Away is one of two songs, the other being Patterns, which focuses on the steel industry which at the moment is a highly sensitive topic as thousands of steel workers stand on the edge of the employment scrapheap.
There is definite fire in their lyrics as they lament yet another industrial disaster in the offing. In Burn Away there is a feel of the industry in the timbre of the tune and in complete contrast, in Patterns, Debbie adds a more doleful sound as local steel workers are hit with redundancy notices and once again ordinary lives are thrown into turmoil.
There is genuine emotion in The Bonny Lad, a song of deep-felt loss; of the wars which have taken sons from their mothers but of course it will resonate with any mother who has lost a child. The gentle tone of Debbie conveys the lament and uncluttered construction of the ballad gives it a real poignancy.
A scene from I, Daniel Blake
Pushing On could be the soundtrack to the latest Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake and concerns itself with people spending so much time trying to make ends meet that they actually have little time for anything else.
There is a genuine empathy and a plaintive tone to the Hannas' refrains with the fiddle and strings emulating that constant motion of just trying to get by.
There is a straightforward love story in The Bookkeeper set in the universally accepted as boring world of accountancy, which just goes to show you romance can blossom anywhere. Stu's lyrics are so honest they could easily come from experience and you get the message from a couple who work with figures and costs and yet realise there is something more valuable than profits in a column and again there are great lyrics to back up the meaning, "But the love a true heart holds, never can be sold."
Among the most thoughtful tracks on this impressive album is Raper Te Bank, a phrase lent from north East colloquialisms from the language forged in the region's industrial past. You get a sense with Stu's gentle offering and Debbie's refrain that even amidst the graft, dust, dirt and sweat of coal mining the flower of romance can blossom.
Zero is almost a musical joke where you have the duo producing a light Morris-style tune produced by Stu on the banjo overlaid onto the subject of people being trapped in zero hour contracts. The ludicrous juxtaposition matches the farce of the situation of workers being exploited and kept at the employers' mercy. It's a clever match up and a great folk strategy of making a subject which would rankle with many people palatable and often more memorable.
The new album
The duo take out the album with a song of dreams and optimism with the title track and is reminiscent of Big Rock Candy Mountain made famous by legend Woody Guthrie.
There is that vision that things will be OK when the bust again turns to boom but there is always that tone of misguided optimism ,of someone clinging to a dream because they have no other option but to believe in it and, whether intended or not it, comes over as a wonderfully ironic song.
Good Times Will Come Again is a musical snapshot of now. The Hannas have captured a chunk of British social history in way that is entertaining, thought provoking, great to listen to and extremely well constructed with nuances which are incredibly subtle. These songs will be a reference point for folk singers and musicians of the future as well a wonderful example of what more folk music could and should be doing.

Good Times Will Come Again is released on May 27 on EDJ Records and is available through the band's website.

You can catch the duo live at The Stables, Milton Keynes on May 25. Show starts 8.45pm and tickets are £13.50. Then there is their official London album launch on May 27 at King's Place, Hall 2. The show starts 8pm and tickets are £12.50. Also The Junction Cambridge on June 3. Show starts 8pm and tickets are £15 in advance. They then move on to the Artrix, Bromsgrove June 4. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £20. On June 25 they play Aulsis Hall, Chapelthorpe, Wakefield. Show starts 7.30pm and tickets are £13.20 including booking fee.

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